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In the novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Brian Moore closely examines the theme of alcoholism and its effect on the protagonist Judith Hearne. Moore highlights Hearne’s loneliness in the novel, which appears to be the source of her alcoholism. Although Moore seems to address Hearne’s addiction to alcohol as a psychological problem, he hints that her alcoholism is also a physiological disease. Although Hearne starts drinking in order to sooth her cough, she uses alcohol to escape from her emotional problems afterward, as alcohol can cheer her up and make her feel better. It seems that her drinking problem is merely a mental problem, but we then see her suffering from withdrawal symptoms, which shows that she cannot function normally without alcohol (Milam and Ketcham 66). Since Moore presents Hearne’s alcohol problem as both physiological and psychological, he creates a feeling of realism in the novel. Thus, the depiction of alcoholism in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is complete and realistic.
In the beginning, Hearne starts drinking because alcohol can relieve the pain that she suffers from bronchitis. The role of alcohol for her, however, changes gradually; although she still thinks that her use of alcohol is medicinal (115), she uses it to escape from her problems in life. She says, “It made sad things seem funny, and if you were feeling down at the mouth, or a little lonely, there was nothing like it for cheering you up” (114). Without a family, friends, and a man, she feels lonely and dissatisfied with life. She thinks that the reasons for her unhappiness and loneliness are beyond her control, as her youth has already passed away and she will not be able to get married now. She feels sad because her dream in the past of getting married to Mr. Right has now proven to be unrealistic, and so she says, “I need something to cheer me up” (114). Since alcohol can alter her mood and make her see problems through another view, she overdoes her drinking so that she will be fully under its influence. Although Hearne still uses alcohol to ease her pain, she mainly uses it to solve her emotional problems and make her feel less lonely.
Since alcohol can make Hearne feel better, she uses it excessively to cheer herself up when problems come along. When Mr. Madden appears in her life, she thinks that her dream of getting married will finally come true. Hearne thinks that Mr. Madden is the perfect man for her, as she thinks that he knows a lot about life since he owns a hotel in America. She starts dreaming that she will marry to him and they will live in New York City together. Yet, when she discovers that Mr. Madden is only a doorman from her landlady, Mrs. Rice, she feels insulted and ashamed, as she thinks that her deceased aunt would think that he is too common for her. Moore skillfully uses the third person limited narration in describing Hearne’s inner struggle. He describes the imaginary conversation between Hearne and her aunt, and that Hearne is trying to defend herself by saying, “Yes, and what’s wrong with that [marrying Mr. Madden even though he is only a doorman]” (97). She tries to convince herself that she is right; yet, the more she thinks about it, the more she feels confused and nervous. So she decides to use alcohol to calm herself down at the end. Moore ends up this scene with, “Warmed, relaxed, her own and only mistress, she reached for and poured a tumbler full of drink” (99). This description of Hearne’s feeling after she drinks clearly shows that she uses alcohol to solve her emotional problems.
Another example is the scene when Hearne visits Moira after Mr. Madden rejects her. The first time Hearne gets rejected by Mr. Madden, she goes to talk to Moira and Moira offers her a Sherry. She says, “I need it, I’m upset, I’ve had a very upsetting day” (146). Also, after Mr. Madden turns her down the second time, she tells Moira, “You’ve got daydreams instead and you want to hold on to them. And you can’t. So you take a drink to help them along, to cheer you up” (200). These two scenes clearly show that Hearne drinks because it helps her to forget the reality that she is living in so that she would feel better about her life.
Although Moore seems to highlight Hearne’s emotional problems as the main factor that is responsible for her drinking problem, he implies that she also suffers from alcoholism. In Under the Influence Dr. Milam says, “At every stage the disease itself prevents the alcoholic from realizing that he is addicted to alcohol” (95). Moore chooses to use the third person limited narration in describing Hearne’s inner thoughts about her use of alcohol. In this manner, he portrays Hearne as a victim of alcoholism, which implies that alcoholism is a physiological disease as well as a psychological problem. The excerpt presented below shows that Hearne denies the fact that she is an alcoholic. It also shows how Moore uses the narrative voice to elucidate Hearne’s inner thoughts about her alcoholism to the readers:
She did not drink to put aside the dangers and disappointments of the moment.
She drank to be able to see these trials more philosophically, to examine them more fully, fortified by the stimulant of unreason. (107)
Besides excusing herself from drinking excessively, Hearne also thinks that she has control over alcohol with her willpower. For example, after she discovers that Mr. Madden was actually a doorman, she uses alcohol in order to help herself calm down. She says, “I must have something to stop it (the cough), something to stop it, to cut the phlegm. I must. Just a little one, it won’t be more, I promise Thee, O Scared Heart” (98). Despite the promise she makes, she finishes the whole bottle and gets very drunk. Again, this shows her denial of being an alcoholic and also implies that she thinks she can control her consumption of alcohol.
As the events of the novel proceed, it becomes obvious that Hearne is indeed an alcoholic. Moore uses the third person narration to describe her different stages of alcoholism. After Hearne gets drunk the first time after she has stopped drinking excessively for six months, the narrator describes the scene when she first starts drinking tonic wine with Edie. This scene illustrates her consumption of alcohol increasing: she first drinks a bottle of tonic wine with someone, and then she starts drinking a big bottle of whiskey all by herself. According to Dr. Milam, tolerance of alcohol is caused by, “physiological changes which occur primarily in the liver and central nervous system” (Milam and Ketcham 56). In other words, Hearne’s improved ability to tolerate large amounts of alcohol is because she is responding to the physiological changes that are inside her (Milam and Ketcham 57).
Later in the novel, she also suffers from the “withdrawal syndrome,” a disruption in the brain’s chemical and electrical activity of the alcoholic’s body after she stops drinking (Milam and Ketcham 64-65). After drinking for the whole day and then not for several hours, Hearne feels nauseated, weak, nervous, and she does not even know she was singing the whole time when she was drunk. These are all symptoms of the early and middle-stage alcoholic experiencing the “withdrawal syndrome,” which also shows that she now depends on alcohol in order to function. Her symptoms of withdrawal become more severe after she is forced to leave her room in Camden Street, as she drinks even more excessively since then. She experiences a hallucination in church, which according to Dr. Milam, is a later withdrawal symptom an alcoholic would suffer when drinking heavily for long periods of time and then stopping. Hearne’s behavior after she drinks excessively presents the reader the image of an alcoholic that is described by Dr. Milam. Although Moore suggests that she drinks mainly because of her emotional and mental problems, he also suggests views of alcoholism that are similar to Dr. Milam’s. For example, Hearne experiences different stages of alcoholism, such as only experiencing a hallucination at the later stage of alcoholism. Hence, Hearne’s cause of alcoholism is not only because she lacks the willpower to stop drinking, but also because the disease itself prevents her from stopping.
Moore’s choice of depicting Hearne’s alcoholism as both emotional and physiological problems brings a more complete and realistic image of the nature of this disease, as opposed just presenting one or the other. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an excellent example of illustrating how literature can present the devastation of a disease without directly telling the facts and the nature of the disease. While a factual book of alcoholism tells us the realities of the disease through scientific research and statistics, a piece of literature, just like The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, can convey the same message more powerfully. Literature can arouse our sentimental feelings toward the character, thus making us aware of the disease on an emotional level.
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